Trading picks would reshape draft
Opinions differ on whether change would have positive impact
The First-Year Player Draft is 40 years old and has undergone various changes over the years, such as adding sandwich picks for teams losing free agents, dropping the supplemental draft altogether and no longer letting league affiliation impact the order of selection.
While the draft appears to be here to stay, it will likely continue to evolve as all parties strive to find ways to improve the way teams add players to their respective organizations.
One change that could enhance the draft might be to take a page from other sports. Pro football and basketball allow teams to trade draft picks. Baseball does not. The idea has been discussed informally in the past, and it's one that probably won't be going away. As with many draft issues, it is complex and one that will need further study. But the basic premise that teams could trade or sell their draft position is intriguing.
"We've been talking about it as long as I can remember," said Terry Reynolds, Cincinnati's director of amateur scouting. "But the way it has to be worked into the Players' Association and the way it has to be negotiatied is way above where we [scouting directors] are."
A team drafting No. 1 could sell or trade that pick for perhaps a hefty price.
Think of the possibilities. Would Seattle have taken Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 pick in 1993 if another team offered a current Major Leaguer or two, plus maybe a few draft choices? Toronto took Roy Halladay with the 17th pick in the first round of the 1995 draft, but what if the Blue Jays had decided to trade up and switch places with, say, Colorado, picking eighth. Would Todd Helton be a Blue Jay, with Halladay ending up in Denver?
Perhaps not, but there would be a whole new set of considerations for teams to explore. Teams with high picks might also be motivated to trade if they believe signability will be an issue.
"I think it could just end up complicating matters," said St. Louis assistant GM John Mozeliak. "As you look at the magnitude you have, are teams trading up because they want to spend the money or overpay for someone? I just think, really simplistically, I think trading draft picks makes a lot of sense because some people don't value the first 10 picks. But I think in the end, it could inflate signing bonuses."
Signability could be a trade starter. Take the 2004 draft for example. The Orioles selected pitcher Wade Townsend from Rice University but were unable to sign him. What if the Orioles had been able to trade his rights? Perhaps Townsend, who reentered the draft and was selected eighth overall by Tampa Bay on Tuesday, might be headed elsewhere and the Orioles would have something to show for their 2004 first round selection.
Of course trading picks would be as fraught with risk as it is in other sports. The pick that got away might be this draft's Scott Rolen or Barry Zito.
Reynolds is among those who think trading picks could be good be good for baseball, depending on how it is set up.
"I don't have any problem with it," he said. "It makes a lot of sense in some cases, if a team has a player who's making a lot of money and can help another club, and it can get you two or three players similar to a football or basketball type of deal, it probably makes a lot of sense."
Others aren't so sure. Houston manager Phil Garner, who has studied the draft mechanism and even came up with an alternative plan, thinks trading draft picks could also create problems. Like the pre-draft years, when teams could sign all the top talent they wanted and simply stockpile those players in their system, allowing teams to trade draft picks would enable teams with deep pockets to stockpile draft choices.
"That would be a possibility," Garner said. "In a year where it's a deep draft that would be something a team might try."
Garner would rather see the signing bonus situation changed. He believes teams are paying too much up front for untried players, and he would rather see the money given to the players when they reach the Major League level. He believes the current system takes away incentives for some players to advance.
"I don't think the system works, it incentives the wrong thing," he said. "The guy got the gold for having talent, not for being a good player, so his incentive is to retain what he has because he already got the money. There's too many players that get in a comfort zone and don't push themselves to be better. We lose a certain set of players because the incentive is not there."
Signability is another pet peeve of Garner's.
"It destroys franchises," Garner said. "It's the silent killer, because the franchises that have to go on signability are, by definition, are the ones that can't sign free agents of any large magnitude. So a team skips on a guy who is slotted for that spot and instead picks another guy who shouldn't go that high and he gets the money. So you're paying more for a guy just because you couldn't afford the other guy. It's ridiculous."
Today, however, teams with signability issues do not have the option to trade or sell their draft slot.
"That might be OK [to trade it] if you know you can't afford the guy and this other team wants him bad enough to give you somebody you want," Garner said.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.